WIMBLEDON, England — Don’t worry. I will not gloat. Just because exactly one year ago I predicted that Ivan Lendl, no matter how fit he was, would never win Wimbledon — not unless he had a brain transplant — and lo and behold, on Monday, in the third round, plop! Down he goes.
Hasta la vista, Ivan.
But never fear. I will not pick on him. Not this morning. This morning, we have a bigger issue before us: What should we think about America’s most brazen young tennis star, Andre Agassi?
It is a question that requires two hands:
On the one hand, Andre’s cute.
On the other hand, Andre’s obnoxious.
On the one hand, he’s just a kid.
On the other hand, he earns $9 million a year.
On the one hand, he claims he’s shy, private, sensitive, misunderstood.
On the other hand, he dyes his hair like Farrah Fawcett.
On the one hand, he says things like “it’s what you are inside that counts.”
On the other hand, he has seven cars.
On the one hand, Andre claims “I have accepted Christ into my life. I only want to be a positive role model for kids.”
On the other hand, he has seven cars.
On the one hand, he coos “how excited I am to be at Wimbledon, I can’t describe my excitement.”
One the other hand, he skipped this tournament three years in a row.
On the one hand, Andre finally did conform to the dress code here, foregoing his usual lime green and purple outfit for the traditional Wimbledon white.
On the other hand, he kept the earring.
Even Ivan doesn’t wear an earring.
Oops. I promised I wouldn’t mention Ivan. Shirt designed for navel maneuvers On the one hand, you have to admire Andre’s tennis. He plays a wicked hard game, smacking the ball so fiercely that his shirt often flies up, revealing his naked waist.
On the other hand, he has his shirts especially cut that way, because his marketing people think it’s good for his sex appeal.
On the one hand, Andre loves the teenagers that scream when he plays.
“They’re great,” he says. “Really great.”
On the other hand, he gets furious if he isn’t provided with bodyguards.
On the one hand, Andre has opened up recently to several sports writers, inviting them to drive around with him for a day, get to know him. They come away very impressed. On the other hand, would you believe anything said to you in a Ferrari?
On the one hand, Andre’s biggest problem is his coach, Nick Bolletierri, an egotistical, sun-worshipping tennis guru from Florida, who, having failed with Jimmy Arias and Aaron Krickstein, is now obsessed with Andre becoming a champion. Bolletierri travels with Andre, dinners with Andre, and, critics say, may be the reason Andre behaves in the sometimes obnoxious and phony way he does.
On the other hand, Andre hasn’t dumped the guy yet, has he?
On the one hand, you have to feel sympathy. Andre’s father hung a tennis ball over his son’s crib, and as soon as Andre could walk, made him carry a sawed-down Ping-Pong paddle.
On the other hand, Andre has seven cars.
Did I say that already?
I wonder how many cars Ivan has. He’ll throw the shirt off his back Back to Andre. Perhaps we’re being too hard on the lad. On the one hand, he has spit at umpires, cursed like a sailor, and been accused of — and all but admitted — tanking matches when he didn’t feel like playing.
On the other hand, sometimes even the President doesn’t feel like going to work.
On the one hand, Andre throws kisses to the crowd, shirts to the crowd, sometimes even throws his shorts.
On the other hand, at least he’s generous.
On the one hand, Andre seems contrived in most everything he says, as if advisers told him exactly the “right” words. His slogan, after all, is “Image is everything.”
On the other hand, don’t politicians do the same?
The point is this: when we decide about Andre Agassi, we are deciding some basic truths about developing American tennis stars these days. Underneath it all, Andre is the by-product of 1) an obsessive parent, 2) an egotistical coach, 3) obscene paychecks, 4) screaming fans, and 5) a management group that designs an “image” around the player that will make a lot of companies spend a ton of money, whether the image is real or not.
Deep down, Andre may be a decent kid. But with all the props around him, we may never know.
On the other hand, he has been in three Grand Slam finals so far and hasn’t won any; until he does, his glitter will be hollow. And I can tell you right now, Andre Agassi will not win Wimbledon. Not this year. And I have a pretty good track record here.
Just ask Ivan.